Thursday, August 31, 2006

My A.13 Cruiser Mk.IVA wargame piece

I will occasionally upload scans of my wargame pieces from the 1980's. This is my A.13 Cruiser Mk.IVA drawing. It is meant to be colored, sized, and printed on index (card stock). You can then cut them out and fold on the middle line to make wargame pieces. That is what I used from the mid-1970's up to the late 1980's when I shifted gears in my historical research. My original drawing was done at 1/48 scale, and this is reduced from that. You should be able to graphically size it to whatever scale you want to use for gaming. It is a convenient way to build armies (I used a 1:4 ratio between game pieces and actual tanks, guns, and trucks).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A more complete accounting of air strengths for Crusader

Apparently, the quote figures for the Axis air strength were based on the idea that they would not be able to hold any aircraft reserve, while the British air strength only included aircraft in service with squadrons. "In Crete and the Aegean", there were 72 more aircraft, not including shorter range fighters. The British had 48 bombers at Malta that could be a factor. The actual figures, not just estimates, show that the British had more than 650 aircraft, of which a portion were "heavy bombers in Egypt". Of the 650, 550 were in servicable condition. Of the 74 at Malta, 66 were servicable. While the Axis airforces had as many as 556 aircraft in Cyrenaica, "only 342 were servicable". It turns out that there was a large reserve of "750 servicable Axis aircraft of suitable types" that could be pulled into the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Estimates of Axis versus known British air strengths

There were apparently considerable differences between the estimates of "relative strengths" of the opposing air forces. This was an important topic, because the government was being pressed by the government of New Zealand over their desire to see that there troops were not operating in a situation where there was an Axis air superiority. The differences between London and Cairo caused the Vice-Chief of the Air Staff to be sent to Cairo to resolve the issue. They finally agreed that the combined German-Italian air forces would have abouty 385 aircraft available "in Cyrenaica". The British air force strenght would be 528. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Air support for Crusader

Each corps and armoured division headquarters in the 8th Army would have a "joint 'Air Support Control'" operation. The goal was to provide better support to the army than had been previously possible. Because overall air superiority was still a priority over direct support, the Air Officer Commanding still had ultimate control, so he could hit important targets with overwhelming force. The quality of air support was especially important to the government of New Zealand, who had strong memories of what happened in Greece and Crete, earlier in the year. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The British were ill-prepared to fight the Crusader Battle

When you realize that the British plan involved tanks fighting tanks, then you know that they would not do well against the Germans. Rommel avoided tank-to-tank battles, always intended to use anti-tank guns against tanks. The guns would be protected and would be either 50mm PAK38 or 88mm FLAK18, FLAK 36, or FLAK 37 with improvised shields. The latter could knock out any British tank, even the Inf.Mk.II Matildas. A Matilda might avoid being knocked out by a 50mm PAK38, but could be, if hit at a favorable spot and at a closer range. The high velocity shot with a tungsten core could take out any British tank at close range. At this stage, the British only had the 40mm 2pdr ATG. The AA artillerists would not allow the potent 3.7in AA gun to be used in the anti-tank role. That meant that the only other alternative was direct fire with 25pdrs with solid shot.

The British had a better chance of succeeding with tank-vs-tank battle when the US M3 Grants and Lees appeared on the scene, along with the Crusader III with the 6pdr gun. The 6pdr gun finally gave the British a gun on a par with the German 50mm gun, in fact it was better, being 57mm with a heavier shot at a good velocity. Once the Sherman arrived on the scene by the fall of 1942, then the British were equipped the sort of battle they wanted to fight. There were a few German tanks present that were superior to them, but they were present only in very small numbers.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Further developments in the Air Force in November 1941

Another change to accommodate the conditions expected in the Crusader offensive was to split the fighter wings into smaller "flying wings", with two squadrons per wing. The intent was to put a wing onto a single airfield. There would be three of these airfields connected to the main headquarters for the original, large wing organization. In addition to the new organization, the Desert Air Force started training to learn "the latest tactics" as used back in Britain. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Desert Air Force needed to be mobile

Since the Army was expected to be able to quickly advance against the German and Italian forces, the Desert Air Force needed to be prepared to advance with them, to be in a position to support the Army. The mobility would be required at both the wing and squadron levels. The plan was to leap frog the two wing headquarters units and their control centers. Finally, duplicate control centers were assembled for each wing, in order to be sufficiently mobile. Sufficient transport needed to be available, if mobility were to be a real possibility. In the end, there was just barely enough transport, but the lack of suitable vehicles "was felt throughout Crusader". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Building up air power

No.204 Group was commanded by Air Vice-Marshal Coningham, "a New Zealander". There were initially the following units:

8 squadrons of short range fighters
1 squadron of long range fighters
6 squadrons of medium bombers
1 squadron of tactical reconnaissance aircraft

To improve the strength of the squadrons, the unit strength was raised from 16 aircraft to 18. As many as seven aircraft would be "held in immediate reserve". A new feature was there was now "an Aircraft Replacement Pool" at Wadi Nostrum. This unit would receive incoming aircraft and distribute them to squadrons. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The start date for Crusader was moved to 18 November 1941

I am sure that it greatly grated on Churchill for his offensive against Rommel to be pushed out as late as 18 November 1941, but there were reasons for the delay. The first was that the 22nd Armoured Brigade arrived late, and then they discovered that their tanks needed time in the workshops to be ready. The offensive had already been delayed due to the delays in accumulating supplies, forward. Finally, the 1st South African had insufficient transport, and the lack thereof interfered with their training an readiness. That was the final delay that pushed the date to 18 November. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Dumping Program: Preparation for Crusader

The hope was that early in the Crusader offensive, that the port of Tobruk could be used to receive supplies sent by sea. The preparations consume the enormous amount of 180,000 gallons of gasoline per day, shipping supplies from the rear. The plan was that once the port was opened, that the Inshore Squadron would convoy cargo ships from Alexandria. "The aim was to deliver 400 tons of cased petrol, 100 tons of bulk petrol, and 600 tons of stores daily." Ever optimistic, the British hoped to have Derna and Benghazi available, and they made plans to prepare the harbours for receiving supply shipments. HMS Glenroy, the landing ship, would carry "two motor launches and eighteen lighters" for moving supplies. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

We are moving towards discussing the Crusader Battle

One of the hardest fought and longest running battles in the war in North Africa in 1941 and 1942 was the Crusader Battle, which started in November 1941 and ended the the Axis retreat to the west. One of the nastiest features of the battle was that the British only won after Claude Auchinleck took charge of the battle. Auchinleck was the theater commander, but he was Churchill's favorite to command the 8th Army in the field. Auchinleck just wanted to be theater commander and let a more junior officer command the 8th Army. Auchinleck kept picking men who were not up to the job of successfully fighting Rommel, so Auchinleck had to keep getting more involved in operations than he wanted. Stay tuned for the eventual "blow-by-blow" of the battle.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Water Supply from August to November 1941

In August 1941, when the water situation was examined, they found that there were not enough water sources west of Matruh. Work was moving forward to extend the pipeline from El Daba to Mersa Matruh, but the pipeline really needed to be extended further west. There was not enough transport available to ship water by road, so something needed to be done. The work had progressed, but on 11 October, an air raid on Fuka damaged new pumps that had been installed, and all the water that had been accumulated was lost, as well. A massive effort was mounted, so that only by 13 November did the piped water reach the railhead at Misheifa. The supply of water had been provided by many voyages of the water carrier Petrella, as well as trains carrying water. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Something I wrote, earlier today, apparently did not get posted

I hope what I wrote this morning about the water supply situation in support of Operation Crusader is still there so I don't have to recreate it. I am trying to give a details summar of the Official History of the War in the Mediterranean and Middle East, now for Volume III, and this is the sort of detail that is required for completeness.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The administrative plan for Crusader

The administrative plan for the Crusader operation included three "Forward Bases":
  1. Sidi Barrani
  2. Thalata, "just west of Misheifa railhead"
  3. one "on the frontier near Jarabub for the Oasis Force"
The expectation was that they would need 32,000 tons of supplies for the first week of the offensive. After that, they had hoped to have relieved Tobruk and would be able to ship supplies into the port. That did not happen, so we can only imagine the disruptions that caused. An innovation was the transformation of Field Supply Depots into the Field Maintenance Centres. Four FMC's supported 30th Corps and two supported 13th Corps (the Official History switched from Roman numerals to the numbers at this point in Vol.III). This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Fairey Battle light bomber

When I was young, the Kalamazoo Public Library had a copy of a book about making balsa wood and tissue aircraft. The book had a photo of a Fairey Battle model and the plans for it (although they were crude). That sparked an interest on my part in the aircraft. It was only later that I realized that the Fairey Battle performance was only slightly better than the Vickers Wellesley, and that, only in the Mk.II version. The Battle's range was somewhat less, while the Wellesley had a considerably greater load carrying capacity.

The Vickers Wellesley light bomber

In the transition from biplanes to monoplanes, a single-engine, low-wing monoplane seemed like a reasonable configuration for light bombers in the the 1930's. The Vickers Wellesley, which was advanced in the sense of having Barnes Wallis's geodesic structure, was an early competitor. The Wellesley had a low-powered, air-cooled engine, which produced a top speed of about 238 mph. The Wellesley saw extensive service in the Middle East and Africa before being replaced by more advanced, twin-engined aircraft. Its load carrying ability and range allowed it to remain in service, despite its low top speed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

In preparation for Operation Crusader

Given the forces required for Operation Crusader, the railhead, which was 130 miles from the border seemed too far away. General Wavell had tried to get the railhead extended in May 1941, but there were no materials available at the time. The demands of material and supplies for Operation Crusader, planned for November 1941, were such that it was essential to extend the railhead as close to the border as possible. The work was finally pressed by the 10th New Zealand Railway Construction Company, starting in September. At the end of September, the 13th New Zealand Railroad Construction Company joined the project, and they were extending the track at a rate of two miles per day. They opened a railhead at Misheifa, which seemed to be far enough forward to support the offensive. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The German raid in September 1941

The British had screening forces along the frontier to cover their preparations for the offensive in November 1941. Cover had been given by the 22nd Guards Brigade and the 7th Support Group, but by early September, 4th Indian Division was moved in, and General Frank Messervy, the division commander, was given overall command of the screening forces. Rommel had become aware of the existence of several supply dumps, and particularly, one a Bir el Khireigat, 15 miles east of the border. Rommel decided to raid the area with the 21st Panzer Division with air support. German intelligence had found that the dump was not in use, but they decided to attack the forces in that area. The German attackers fought against Brigadier Jock Campbell's 7th Support Group, which blocked the attack. The SAAF achieved a success when two squadrons, No.12 and No.24 Squadrons SAAF caught the Germans refueling. Bombers also hit the German fields at Gambut. The result was that the Germans had left 5 tanks behind and had 9 aircraft either destroyed or damaged. On 11 September, the 21st Panzer Division had 110 running tanks, but by 20 September, they were down to 43. It took until November to rebuild their tank strength, probably mostly by repairs. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The LRDG in the summer and fall of 1941

After April 1941, the Long Range Desert Group had expanded to two squadrons of three patrols each. They had acquired men from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Souther Rhodesians, and the 1st Cavalry Division. They picked up a 4.5in howitzer and light tank, to give them a little more "punch". On their own, they managed to purchase "two Waco aircraft". After Colonel Bagnold was "recalled to Cairo in August to advise on long range matters", Lt-Colonel Prendergast took command. He was a pilot, and flew one of the aircraft. By July the LRDG had started reconnaissance deep in the desert to "learn about tracks, water, and sites for landing grounds". They penetrated deep into southern Tripolitania. By September 1941, the LRDG operated under 8th Army orders and "set a watch on the coast road to the west of El Agheila". This is based on the account in Vol.III in the Official History.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Plans for "Oasis Force"

One of the subsidiary operations planned in support of the main offensive in November 1941 was for Oasis Force to take Jalo, a landing ground that would be built 100 miles northwest of Jarabub could be shielded. The idea was to have a field from which to bomb Benghazi. Part of the plan was a deception where the southern operations were made to be seen as being larger and more important than they actually were. An elaborate buildup of dummy "camps, dumps, dummy tanks, and an appropriate volume of spurious wireless traffic was maintained". Meanwhile, Oasis Force would mount harrassing operations against the Axis southern flank. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The role of XXXth Corps

General Norrie, XXXth Corp commander, did not like the concept of his corps being required to protect the flank of XIIIth Corps. He wanted freedom of maneuver to be able to engage the German armoured divisions. A striking feature of this discussion was that the British intended to use armoured to fight armour, while the Germans preferred to use armour to fight infantry, and would use their anti-tank guns, hidden and protected, to fight armour. In Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots, he describes being hit by a hidden and protected 50mm PAK38, and having his Stuart knocked out. General Godwin-Austen wanted to have the 4th Armoured Brigade as flank protection. The 4th Armoured Brigade was equipped with Stuarts and included Robert Crisp's battalion, the 3/RTR. General Cunningham decreed, probably in October 1941, that the 4th Armoured Brigade would remain under the XXXth Corps command. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The plan for the breakout from Tobruk in November 1941

General Cunningham hoped that XXXth Corps would defeat the two German armoured divisions in tank-to-tank combat, and then occupy the Sidi Rezegh ridge. At that point, the Tobruk garrison would break out and occupy the El Duda ridge. In the first days, XIIIth Corps would hold the Axis forces on the frontier and protect "the forward bases and railhead". Two brigades of the 4th Indian Indian Division would be so employed. The third brigade would take Side Omar, as flank protection for XXXth Corps. General Norrie's plan was to move to "the El Adem-Sidi Rezegh area" on the second day, if the Axis forces did not respond to his initial move. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

General Cunningham's plan for the attack

General Cunningham's original proposal was for the primary armoured forces with cruiser tanks to swing out and towards Tobruk to raise the seige and to draw the German armour into battle. The infantry would attack the German and Italian border forces and remove them. One armoured brigade was to operate between them to protect the armour's flank. The final plan put al lthree armoured brigades into XXXth Corps, which would drive towards Tobruk, hoping to draw the Axis armour into battle. XIIIth Corps would attack the frontier. The initial British move would be to put XXXth Corps "near Gabr Saleh". Depending on the response, General Cunningham would decide where they would go next. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Axis dispositions in late 1941

The British believed that almost all the Axis strength was forward-deployed to Cyrenaica, with just a few divisions in Tripolitania. The frontier was held by an Italian division backed by some German units with guns. The two German armoured divisions were located between Bardia and Tobruk. Three Italian divisions, with more German units encircled Tobruk. The British believed that there was an Italian mobile corps forming near the Jebel Akhdar (Ariete armoured division and the Trieste Motorized Division, and another?). The actual Italian Mobile Corps, the XXth, certainly had the Ariete Armoured Division and the Trieste Motorized Division. At the time of the offensive in November, the British expected to have a 3:2 superiority in tanks and a 2:3 inferiority in aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reorganization in North Africa in the fall of 1941

A complicating factor in the reorganization and re-equipping of British forces in North Africa was that the Australian government had asked that their troops be withdrawn from Tobruk. In the meantime, the scattered operations that General Wavell was forced, finally against his will, to pursue had left the forces in disarray. At least the opening of the Red Sea to sea traffic from America had simplified the buildup and resupply. Traffic also flowed from the UK and the Dominions with fresh troops and equipment. The goal was to start a new offensive in November 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More pressure on General Auchinleck from Churchill

The Prime Minister had some very strong opinions strategy in North Africa that were contrary to what General Auchinleck and Air Marshal Tedder thought prudent. Churchill was focused on the fact that while the British forces were rebuilding, they should have kept continuous pressure on the Axis forces, rather than giving them a respite. After all, if the Germans were successful in Russia, it might free more resources to be redeployed to North Africa, so action should be taken immediately. Continuous operations against the Axis forces would use up their valuable resources that would be harder for them to replenish than the British resources. Churchill chafed at the 4-1/2 month build-up period, and constantly pestered Auchinleck during that period. The opinion of the Official History is that it would have been British resources that would have been "used up piecemeal" from July to November 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Politics in dispositions

General Auchinleck was concerned with covering the northern flank from attack down from Russia. The very incomplete 6th Division was in Syria, and was being built up in strength. When the 50th Division arrived from the UK, Auchinleck directed that they be sent to Cypress. That got the attention of Churchill, as Churchill was concerned that they main forces in North Africa were not British, but from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India. The Prime Minister's pressure got Auchinleck to replace the 5th Division with the 5th Indian Division, which had been in Iraq. The 50th Division, at this time, was under the command of the 9th Army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, August 07, 2006

8th Army organization in September and October 1941

After the 8th Army was created and a Headquarters formed, the corps were organized. First, the Western Desert Force reverted to its old designation: 13th Corps. Since Lt-General Noel Beresford-Peirse had been appointed to command in the Sudan, Lt-General Godwin-Austen became the corps commander. General Godwin-Austen had previously commanded the 12th African Division. The 30th Corps was created to be the corps in which armoured divisions would be assigned. The remnants of the 2nd Armoured Division were used to form the 30th Corps Headquarters. Lt-General Pope had been intended to command 30th Corps, but he and his senior staff had been killed in a air crash. In his place, Major-General Norrie was appointed as 30th Corps Commander. General Norrie had been the 1st Armoured Division commander. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The new organization in North Africa in the fall of 1941

Two new armies were formed in North Africa from September 1941. The 9th Army included the area north of Egypt. The 8th Army was formed facing west, towards Rommel and the Italian army in Libya. General Maitland Wilson commanded the 9th Army and General Alan Cunningham was brought in from East Africa to command the 8th Army. Palestine and Transjordan became one "Base and Line of Communication Area", while Egypt became a second "Base and Line of Communication Area". Churchill wanted General Wilson to command the 8th Army, but General Auchinleck thought that Wilson should take the northern army, covering the rear of the 8th Army against incursions from Russia, while General Cunningham's fast moving campaign, involving rapid movement impressed General Auchinleck that he had the right sort of attitude for the 8th Army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The situation in French Somaliland from mid-1941

What the British discovered in negotiations with the French governor of Somaliland was that he was prepared to let the British use the port of Jibuti, but he refused to let the Free French into the country, and refused to consider joining them. After the Japanese attacks in December 1941, several blockading ships were withdrawn from the coast of French Somaliland and the Vichy government in France "offered the use of Jibuti port and railway in return for the raising of the blockade and supplies of food to French Somaliland". The British government was not willing to relent, but by March, they ceased blockading, as the blockade no longer seemed appropriate. This is based onthe account in Vol.II of the Official History. This completes the summary of Vol.II, and we will start Vol.III, next.

Friday, August 04, 2006

French Somaliland in 1940-1941

The last topic in Vol.II of the Official History tells about the situation in French Somaliland. By November 1940, Generals de Gaulle, with General Legentilhomme, had suggested that General Legentilhomme take a small Free French Force to Jibuti, and stage a coup. They were convinced that there were many with Free French sympathies there. Churchill and the Commanders in Britain had approved the plan, but it was opposed by General Wavell as a diversion that would just be a distraction from the primary theater. French Somaliland was first under strict contraband control and then under a blockade to prevent supplies from reaching the Italians, and the people there were suffering from that measure. After March 1941, when a stricter blockade went into effect and a propaganda program. Neither seemed to have any effect on the situation. At this point, General Wavell, "after consulting Genral Catroux", suggested negotiating with the governor, M. Louis Noualihotas. By the summer of 1941, there seemed to be no progress. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Official History remarks on the East African campaign in 1940 and 1941

Volume II of the Official History has some remarks on the East African campaign in 1940 and 1941 that removed "Italian rule" from the region. What they say is that we would now see the campaign as being of minor importance, compared to the large battles in North Africa. Several key factors in the success were the increasing capabilities of African soldiers, the dominance of air power, and the Ethiopian guerrillas (the "Patriots"). The Official History also points out the diversity of the forces involved. They came from "Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, the Sudan, Ethiopia, the Gold Coast, France, India, South Africa, Northern Rhodesia and the United Kingdom". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The end at Gondar

The first troops to enter Gondar had been patrols from the Kenya Armoured Car Regiment. The first infantry were the guerillas of the Walla Banda. The 25th East African Brigade had achieved its objectives by noon on 27 November 1941. The Italians arrived to surrender at 3:4opm. The mechanized forces were sent to get General Nasi to surrender. He did, after an interval. The surrender order was dropped by Hartbeests on 28 November to Chilga and Gorgora. The fall of Gondar put 10,000 Italian and 12,000 native troops as prisoners. The British forces lost "32 killed, 182 wounded, and 6 missing". 15 British aircraft had been lost since 7 April, but the Italian's had their air power in the area wiped out in the process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The attack on 27 November 1941

The first attacks on 27 November 1941 started at 5:30am, when the 2/2nd King's African Rifles climbed the slope at Daflecha. The 1/6th King's African Rifles were sent against Lower Daflecha. When the 2/2nd's attack succeeded, the 1/6th was sent to exploit the breakthrough. They had taken Daflecha by 2pm. The 4/4th King's African Rifles attacked at 1:50pm, and they were successful. "The enemy fled into the arms of Nurk's Shoans up from the south". The night before, the 79th Foot had taken an outpost of Diridiba. They went for the Fanta posts at dawn. The guerillas had wiped out the Blackshirts by 8am. When they realized that there was nothing between them and Gondar, they moved into the town. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

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